Apple iPhone 5: Should You Upgrade?

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Apple’s sixth-generation smartphone is now available, and around the world, owners of previous versions are asking themselves, “should I get the new model?” Brighthand is here to help make this decision.

Screen

The most obvious new feature of the iPhone 5 is the 4-inch display — larger than the one in any of its predecessors. When it comes to screens bigger is usually better, but that varies from person to person. One of the best ways to determine whether you should upgrade is to ask your self, does the size of your current screen irritate me? Do you find yourself wishing the display was bigger when you are accessing websites, watching movies, playing games, or anything else?

Apple iPhone 5 vs. iPhone 4SMore than the size is increasing – the resolution is also going up. By how much will depend on which model you are using now. For iPhone 4 series users the increase is marginal. The change for iPhone 3GS or earlier models is profound, however.

The new resolution is 1136 x 640 pixels. The Apple’s previous two handsets had a 940 x 640 screen. The iPhone 3GS and earlier devices, on the other hand, have 480 x 320 screens. Apple’s very high-res displays on its recent models have been widely praised, and should be taken as a good reason for users of earlier models to upgrade. For the iPhone 4S or iPhone 4, this is much more questionable.

4G LTE

Previous Apple smartphones poke along with 3G. The iPhone 5, on the other hand, boasts 4G LTE. This offers significantly faster wireless data transfers. Translation: much faster web browsing, file downloading, etc.

This will benefit many users, especially as early reports from reviewers are saying that adding LTE doesn’t reduce the battery life. On the other hand, if you don’t live in or near a large metropolitan area, you aren’t likely to get LTE access any time soon, and 4G is not a benefit if you can’t use it.

Camera

Although there are some improvements in the iPhone 5’s rear-facing camera when compared to the iPhone 4S — it’s faster, for one thing — these are fairly marginal. Both have a resolution of 8MP.

The situation is different for the earlier predecessors. The iPhone 4, for example, has a 5 MP camera. And all Apple handsets from before the 4S lack a front-facing camera, so they can’t make use of the free FaceTime video-chatting service.

iOS 6

The iPhone 5 comes running iOS 6, but Apple is making this new version of its mobile operating system available for devices going back to the iPhone 3GS. This will bring many of the benefits of the new system software to older models.

But not all the new features. The voice-guided navigation in Apple’s new Maps app isn’t coming to the iPhone 4 or earlier models, and neither is Siri or Shared Photo Streams.

And Apple says the A6 processor in the iPhone 5 brings some performance improvements. Users should notice faster responses when opening apps, for example. And these will be even more noticeable when comparing the new version to the iPhone 4.

Battery Life

While the preliminary tests of the iPhone 5 indicate that its battery life isn’t better than than it’s predecessors, it doesn’t appear to be any worse either. That’s good news, as the larger screen and 4G LTE require extra power.

Apple iPhone 5 vs. iPhone 4SSo this is neither a reason to upgrade nor keep an older device.

Storage

Another area where the iPhone 5 isn’t shaking things up is storage capacity. The latest model comes in versions with 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of internal capacity, with no support for removable meory cards.

Cost

Obviously, everyone would get the latest and greatest if it was cheap. The iPhone 5 is not, and in the U.S. the price for most people will depend on where you are in your two-year contract.

If you bought an iPhone 4S with a carrier subsidy, then you are, at most, half-way through your contract. (If you paid much less than $600 for it, you got a subsidy.) That means you are about another year away from qualifying for another subsidy. As a result, getting the iPhone 5 is going to set you back at least $600.

On the other hand, people who bought the iPhone 4 in the months after it was released in 2010 are finishing up their two-year commitment. For this group, you can get Apple’s newest smartphone for $200.

Conclusion

Considering all these factors, it seems likely that most people with an iPhone 4S would likely not see enough of an improvement to justify the cost of getting an iPhone 5 at this time. Those with an iPhone 4, on the other hand, should consider upgrading when their two-year contract runs out.

This is in-line with Apple’s product development strategy. It doesn’t appear to try to make its new smartphones so much better than the previous years’ that most people feel compelled to upgrade. Instead, it seems to go at a pace where customers want a new device every two years — right about the time their wireless service contract runs out.

Be sure to read our review of iOS 6. And our hands-on review of the iPhone 5 will be published very soon.

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